Six hours and three train rides later with our gear in tow, we found ourselves in the Dordogne region of France. From the train station in Sarlat-la-Canéda we ventured on a 20 min walk into the sleepy town, rolling our two little suitcases behind us. This walk reminds us about the importance of traveling light. For two people living on a boat in Mexico, this doesn’t phase us. A little walking is good for both the heart and the soul.
Sarlat is another historical little gem boasting some of the regions best preserved architecture from the middle ages. In fact, the entire old part of town has been restored as closely as possible to how things once were, with money provided by the government through loi Malraux (law Malraux) that was passed in order to protect the heritage of French towns. Sarlat’s fine stone buildings with traditional glass lanterns provide a romantic and picturesque backdrop to the cobble stone streets, large market square, and narrow alleyways.
Market days in Sarlat (Wed. & Sat.) are a huge draw with vendor after vendor selling their version of the famous foie gras, truffle oil, walnuts, strawberries, and other lovely treats. During our visit local farmers brought the animals into town to show off where their goods come from. Eager to share you won’t leave hungry. Market goers are offered samples to taste. Great for people like us because we don’t speak French fluently, but our taste buds don’t lie.
The best discovery was a local confection, Nougat de Montélimar. The recipe includes pistachios, almonds, egg whites, sugar, honey, powdered sugar, and vanilla. The nougat is expensive, sold by the pound, but worth it for a small chunk of sweetness.
Place des Oies – Square of the Geese
In this square is a statue to honor the Geese that are traded here during market days from November through March. Geese are big business in the land of Foie Gras. Don’t tell anyone in Sarlat, but I’m not particularly fond of Foie Gras. The spread is made of geese or duck liver, or a combo of the two. Add it to crackers or bread and have yourself a taste. I just had to mention the word liver to Grant and he said no. But, here? This is their specialty. I had to give it another try. Unfortunately I only reaffirmed what I already knew. Maybe in another few years . . .
The town of Sarlat began with the foundation of a Benedictine Abbey in the 9th Century. As the Abbey grew, so did the town. It provided a stable hub that allowed Sarlat to develop into a center for trade during the Middle Ages. Today’s Abbey is actually the site of the Cathedral of St. Sacerdos. A real mix of architectural styles are represented on the church exterior, it was built in the 1100’s, redeveloped in the early 1500’s and remodeled again in the 1700’s.
Originally we wanted to travel by canoe and float down the Dordogne river to explore the small village highlights. But, it was cold and I wasn’t feeling well. Instead we took a taxi from Sarlat to Beynac and stopped in the Pharmacy. We thought we could just browse for what we needed and be on our way, but that’s not how it works here. Almost everything in the pharmacy is behind the counter. The pharmacist was nice and spoke English. I gave her my symptoms, she gave me medicine, and some advice. The same kind your mother gives.
We hiked up the hill through the stone village arriving at the base of the castle. Walking through the village was like walking through a movie set. Sometimes you have to touch the stone walls or smell the beautiful flowers just to make sure it is real. Be extra careful about what is under your feet. That’s stone too. It can be slippery in the rain, and every now and then stones are not evenly aligned. Best to walk slow and admire the girls that dare to do the same walk in high heels. I prefer flip flops.
Château de Beynac
The castle in Beynac is a more traditional rustic stone castle with gates, wooden floors and lanterns to light the way. The castle is under renovation by the current owner. A few of the rooms are set up while many more remain visions. The castle housed the French during the 100 years war and was also the set of a movie in 1989 called The Messenger. Most impressive are the views of the valley from the top.
Where To Eat?
There are a lot of local restaurants in Sarlat serving up some version of the local cuisine. The cafe’s around the main square are a must for great people watching and an afternoon pick me up. They mainly serve soda, beer and coffee. A few “fast food” places are also popular. Fast Food in the literal sense meaning you stand there, point at a sandwich, and they pull it out of a case for you. The Petit Casino’s (little Casino’s) do not have slot machines inside, but provide enough variety of food to create an easy lunch or breakfast.
Chez le Gaulois – This place is small and quaint. Inside wooden beams are exposed with large cured ham legs hanging from the ceiling! Seating is so cozy that you practically dine with your neighbors but this is part of the charm. The food was reasonable at about $15-$18 a person, this included salad, bread, main course, wine and desert. I ordered a desert that I had no idea would come out so huge. It even got the attention of our French neighbors who all smiled and gave me the thumbs up. C’est bon!
Tonton’s Burgers – Tonton’s Burgers offered a quick, easy and cheap meal, that could be eaten there or taken away. After awhile all of the oils, truffles, hams, and sausages from this region need a little twist.